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Sculptor Keith Lord crafts his creative growth

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This yet-to-be-named wood sculpture represents only one facet of the artistic media used by Keith Lord, professor of art. Lord’s mixed media pieces include the use of unusual household items, such as hollowed books used as containers to house miniature sculptures. Recently he has taken a turn toward the use of wood in his work. / photo by David Bess

Christina Collins Burton
Arts Editor

Keith Lord, professor of art, has participated in exhibitions as far as Venice. In a recent interview he shares the new turn his work has taken into the world of found wood.

Tell me a little about your academic history.

I started college when I was 29; I had already been in the Navy for six years and had a job in the civilian world for five years in electronics. I kind of hit a dead-end without a degree so I went to Cal State Chico as an art major.

Originally I thought I would be an art educator, but I found that I was more drawn to the studio art classes than the art education classes.

I applied for graduate schools at Claremont Graduate University and went through that two year program and got my emphasis in sculpture.

At that time I was making work that was very kinetic; it involved motors, magnets, lights, some motion and sound elements.

So at the time I was playing with that idea of technology being a blessing and a curse.

So then I graduated with my master of fine arts and started teaching at the First Street Gallery and Art Center, teaching developmentally disabled adults. I got a full-time position there as an art instructor. I did that for four or five years and then I got a position here at La Verne as the art studio manager.

Then a position opened up for sculpture and I applied and was appointed for a one year emergency replacement.

There was an unexpected vacancy and I got the one year appointed and then I applied and was hired on a tenured track.

Recently I have taken a new direction in my work. I am now working with found wood, which means wood that is not purchased at a lumber yard.

What really guides you when you decide on the collection you are going to do next?

At first I was attracted to having real control over how someone experienced the work.

You had to pick it up, push a button and look in a hole. I became more interested in work that was a little less aggressive, a little bit more passive and open to experience at various levels.

Another thing that shifted was I started finding this scrap wood that was trimmed from the wood from hardwood floors.

There was an exhibition in Pasadena and I was asked to participate in that, and it was expected that I would do one of my mirror pieces. I had already started shifting ideas so as an experiment I filled the space with this structure that almost resembled the reinforcements of a mine.

The work is only about maybe a year old now. In the mean time I have made four wood pieces, and they are getting bigger. This last one I actually used a computer program to help me design it. Then of course I constructed it all by hand, but one of Google’s programs really helped me to experiment with the form before I actually had to cut the wood.

I also know that in the process of making it on the computer I was still using spontaneous choices, and creative choices I have never really been able to draw and design a work on paper because it is virtually impossible to render something completely accurate in 3D.

Do you think you are ever going to completely take out the technology aspect of your work?

The first few pieces that I did were completely intuitive, no computer at all.

I am really seeing the computer right now as a way to fulfill, a way to help me, make it a little easier to create something that is coming from my mind, coming from my subconscious, something I am expressing about the quality of human relationships.

Most people would probably see my seven foot tall sculpture and have no idea that there was high technology behind it.

I think it is virtually impossible for us, as artists or us as humans, to do anything without technology.

I am not worried about the use of technology; I have no tendency to think that an absence of technology makes something more pure. It is simply a tool and maybe take work in directions that are not as successful. It can become too formulaic, if you just push a button and it creates art then I say it is no longer art.

Your newer pieces of work, you talk about having strong emotions from people seeing your work, what kind of reactions have you received?

I had three of the works in the ballroom in the Campus Center and most of the people that saw it were not the typical art audience, they were fellow faculty members. I got some pretty interesting comments from a number of people.

One of my science colleagues was very interested in the fact that all of the spirals scrawled in left handed spirals and he associated that with the double-helix. I think he said that most spirals in nature and biology and chemistry have the same turn and I had no idea.

One of the things I knew I really liked was the contrast between the real roughness of the wood and the real finesse and procession of those joints.

Rather than the wood taking more of a natural twist or bend, it is very mechanical. I liked that people were commenting on that procession and roughness.

What people were responding to was the relationship between one piece of wood and the other, and then of course you could map all sorts of metaphors onto that, whether it is a figure, or it is man and nature, but it is very much about the relationship between two things.

Do you have any newer pieces that you are working on right now?

Right now I am accessing my wood collection to see if I have the wood that sufficiently matches, that will make a piece like the ones that I have made.

One of the things that this assessment is doing is I am not sure I do have enough wood to make the scale that I want within the restrictions that I placed on myself.

Now out of necessity I am thinking what if I used several pieces of different kinds of wood so I am kind of in a reassessment of those basic assumptions already.

Do you have any exhibits that you are looking into joining?

No, I have nothing on the horizon. I know I am not ready to present this work to the people that would put me in a show.

I am really still in the early developmental stage to the point where I have maybe a dozen pieces.

If it comes up that someone comes across my work and invites me to come have a piece in a group show I would not be against that idea but I am not actively seeking it at this moment. As I say, I am still writing the novel.

Christina Collins Burton can be reached at

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